A social media platform similar to YouTube is powering up its offerings by paying some people to produce content and putting popular conservative voices such as Dan Bongino front and center on the site.
The platform, called Rumble, was started in 2013, but it’s seen steady growth this year from people who believe Google, Twitter and Facebook, collectively known as Big Tech, are censoring voices on the right.
Last summer, Rumble had about 1 million active users but now it has about 30 million, founder and CEO Chris Pavlovski told The Washington Post. Rumble’s fans include Donald Trump Jr., the 45th president’s son, Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz and Bongino, a talk-radio star who owns a share in the company.
Former President Donald Trump also has a verified Rumble account, which was set up in June and most recently shared what looks like a 2024 campaign ad. The video disparages President Joe Biden and the Afghanistan withdrawal and is entitled “Surrenderer-in-Chief.”
However, with the recent news that it will pay eight content creators, including journalist Glenn Greenwald and former U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Rumble seems to be signaling larger ambitions than being a home for Trump and his supporters. Greenwald told The Washington Post that Rumble, based in Toronto, wants to be “a hospitable place for non-MAGA people.”
The other people the company is paying for content include documentary producer Matt Orfalea, the comedian known as Bridget Phetasy, and commentators Siraj Hashmi, Mijahed Kobbe, Shant Mesrobian and Zaid Jilani. What these people have in common, besides massive Twitter followings, is a distaste for tech monopolies, according to Rumble’s announcement.
“For too long, the incumbent platforms have been able to subjectively ban or deliberately steer people away from content — all without any accountability and competition to keep them in check,” Pavlovski said in a statement. “Rumble is challenging this power structure, and the addition of these prominent creators further strengthens the cause of free thinking, open debate and discussion.”
Other social media platforms that sought to challenge the dominance of Twitter and Facebook, such as Gab and Parler, still operate in their shadow, in part because they were quickly dubbed a haven for extreme views. That’s because in seeking to create free-speech zones on the internet, they attract not only conservatives enraged that Twitter permanently banned Trump from the platform, but people who were banned from other platforms for things widely seen as offensive. This has led to conservatives taking up an old slogan of the American Civil Liberties Union: “protecting the speech we hate.”
For many people troubled by the power that Google, Twitter and Facebook hold over public discourse, that’s a worthy tradeoff. The U.S. Supreme Court, in its 2017 ruling in Packingham v. North Carolina, called social media “the modern public square.”
But therein lies the the challenge facing Rumble and Big Tech competitors: With substantially fewer users than Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, they’re near the public square, but not squarely in it.
Rumble’s traffic was about 1% of YouTube’s 1.5 billion visits last week, according to Washington Post technology reporter Drew Harwell. Parler, which enjoyed the endorsement of conservative lawmakers like Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Ted Cruz of Texas, had around 200,000 visits last month, Harwell reported. Twitter, in comparison, has about 73 million users.
But it’s too soon to count the upstarts out.
Google, Twitter and Facebook are the subjects of a congressional antitrust investigation. And both Parler and Rumble have investors with deep pockets. Conservative businesswoman Rebekah Mercer is a major investor in Parler and is reported to be involved with the management of that platform. And Rumble announced in May new investments by venture capitalist Peter Thiel and by a venture capital firm co-founded by J.D. Vance and Colin Greenspon.
In a video talking about the venture, Greenwald, a founder of the website The Intercept who quit over censorship of his reporting on Hunter Biden, said that the new venture will allow independent journalists like himself to present a more polished product without the fear of censorship by the largest social media platforms and of “liberal corporate media.”
But like many critics of Big Tech, Greenwald remains on Twitter, where he has 1.6 million followers.